I crack open a can of Oskar Blues’ TenFIDY Imperial Stout as some of the first flakes of the season begin to fall. These early winter storms may signal that the beginning of ski season is mere weeks away, but they’re also a reminder that it’s time for local breweries to roll out their winter seasonals in all of their full-bodied goodness.
The TenFIDY pours like motor oil from the can into my glass, releasing a sweet scent that’s reminiscent of chocolate malt. At 10.5 percent alcohol by volume and with a viscous body through which no light can penetrate, TenFIDY is a big stout to get your taste buds around. But as the first sip sends a warming bloom through my chest and flavors of chocolate and sweet toffee mingle with a muted hop bitterness, I’m reminded that it’s a balanced and approachable beer. Too bad it only comes around once a year (and will be gone come March).
It’s fitting that I sample Odell Brewing’s Mountain Standard Double Black IPA on the evening before the clock rolls back — the beer is named for the local time zone and released to coincide with the end of daylight saving time. Black IPAs, an emerging style, are meant to bridge the seemingly disparate divide between dark and hoppy beers, and Mountain Standard accomplishes this admirably with a heady bouquet of Colorado-grown hops that both compliment and contrast its rich malt base. Released for the first time in four-packs, Mountain Standard is available through early spring.
Left Hand Brewing Company’s winter seasonal, Fade to Black, is also designed to compliment the end of daylight saving time. Last year’s version was a smoked Baltic porter, and this year Left Hand dreamed up a Pepper Porter that the brewery describes as having “dried fruit flavors entwined with smoky pepper and licorice” with subtle chile undertones and an herbal finish.
There’s nothing subtle about the blizzard that effectively shut down Ft. Collins for several days in 2003, but the storm did inspire New Belgium Brewing’s Snow Day Winter Ale, which replaces 2 Below as New Belgium’s winter seasonal. Snow Day is brewed with a newly developed malt called Midnight Wheat that imparts chocolate and caramel flavors, while several carefully selected hop varieties provide a bright aroma and bitterness that cut through the malt base like a ray of sunshine piercing a winter sky. But at 55 IBUs overall, the slight bitterness that surfaces in the middle of a sip is more of a welcome surprise than a hop wallop.
Crystal Springs Brewing Company’s Black Saddle Imperial Stout packs a wallop in its own right at 9.5 percent ABV. It’s loaded with roasted malts and flavors of dark fruit and molasses that surface and fade in this complex and enjoyable brew. Available in very limited quantities, each 22-ounce bottle is hand-dated and numbered. It’s worth getting at least two bottles — one to enjoy now and the other to put back for next winter to see how it ages.
Twisted Pine’s Northstar Imperial Porter, an award-winning Baltic porter, is another beer that ages well. In fact the brewery usually hosts a vertical tasting of several vintages of Northstar during its annual release party in the Twisted Pine Ale House. It’s interesting to taste how distinct flavors of dark chocolate, molasses, raisins and plums intermingle and meld as the beer ages, and how each batch is slightly different than the last.
Avery’s The Czar Russian Imperial Stout, available in the brewery’s distinctive foil-wrapped bombers, is another big beer loaded with rich flavors — in this case mocha, molasses, and dark fruit. Or, if you’re looking for something more sessionable, try Avery’s Old Jubilation Ale.